Oil & Gas Leases in Sage-Grouse Habitat

Oil & Gas Leases in Sage-Grouse Habitat

Current Status:

Date Filed:
Apr 30, 2018

Case Title:
Western Watersheds Project and Center for Biological Diversity v. Ryan K. Zinke, David Bernhardt; and BLM

Staff attorney(s):
Laird J. Lucas
Todd Tucci
Sarah Stellberg


Center for Biological Diversity

Western Watersheds Project

To Protect:

Greater Sage-Grouse

Public Lands

Public Interests


Case Information:

January 5, 2024Advocates for the West won a victory upholding our June 2021 Phase Two win suspending new drilling and fracking on 605 federal oil and gas leases. U.S. Chief Magistrate Judge Raymond Patricco addressed two motions in his ruling. First, Judge Patricco denied an industry motion effectively seeking to allow the drilling of new wells on a Phase Two lease. Second, Judge Patricco granted Advocates for the West’s motion holding that BLM had been violating the Court’s Phase Two summary judgment decision by granting drilling permit extensions, and thus allowing new drilling on Phase Two leases. The order prohibits companies from using the 45 drilling permits BLM already extended.

September 29, 2023 — Advocates for the West argued before the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals to uphold our prior victories, including a court order vacating leases in Nevada, Utah and Wyoming that applied Trump-era provisions.

June 9, 2021 – Advocates for the West won a ruling from Magistrate Judge Ronald E. Bush that suspended new drilling and fracking on 605 federal oil and gas leases spanning 403,820 acres of greater sage-grouse habitat in Wyoming and Montana.

In this Phase Two victory, the Court ruled that the BLM violated federal law by failing to justify its refusal to defer leasing in priority greater sage-grouse habitat; failing to provide baseline data about the bird’s populations in the lease areas; and failing to analyze site-specific and cumulative impacts to the bird.

December 16, 2020 – Advocates for the West filed a brief defending the Phase One victory last February, which vacated oil and gas leases in sage-grouse habitats.

February 27, 2020 – Advocates for the West won a significant victory when the court overturned a Trump administration policy which curtailed public participation in oil and gas leasing decisions.

The court also granted Advocates for the West‘s request to void lease sales covering nearly 1 million acres of public lands — roughly a quarter of all acres leased by the Trump Administration in the lower 48 — because the BLM failed to allow public participation required by law. 

September 21, 2018 – In response to our motion, U.S. Chief Magistrate Judge Ronald E. Bush issued a preliminary injunction prohibiting BLM from enforcing the policy changes pending a final ruling by the court. Lease sales scheduled for December in greater sage-grouse habitat will now be subject to a mandatory 30 day public comment period. 

In his ruling, Judge Bush states: “[I]n this case, the record contains significant evidence indicating that BLM made an intentional decision to limit the opportunity for (and even in some circumstances to preclude entirely) any contemporaneous public involvement in decisions concerning whether to grant oil and gas leases on federal lands. . . .The evidence illustrates that the intended result of the at-issue decisions was to dramatically reduce and even eliminate public participation in the future decision-making process.”

August 24, 2018 – Advocates for the West filed our reply brief in this case.

July 6, 2018 – Advocates for the West filed a motion for preliminary injunction and our opening brief in this case. The BLM issued a new policy in January 2018 that makes mandatory public comment periods for oil and gas leasing optional and slashes 30-day administrative protest periods to just 10 days. Calling public input “burdensome,” the new policy reverses portions of an Obama-era rule for oil and gas leasing.

We are asking the Idaho Federal District Court to restore the public’s right to be given sufficient time for input on federal oil and gas leasing. Public comments are an effective and important part of the federal decision-making process.

April 30, 2018 – Advocates for the West filed a lawsuit challenging Trump Administration policies that gut protections for imperiled greater sage-grouse and allow oil and gas leases on nearly 2 million acres of the bird’s prime habitat.

Our suit demonstrates that the Interior Department’s Bureau of Land Management violated the National Environmental Policy Act and Federal Lands Policy and Management Act when it approved eight massive oil and gas lease sales in Nevada, Utah, Montana, Wyoming and Idaho.

The leases were enabled by two Trump policies, one directive rolling back hard-won compromises to preserve dwindling sage-grouse populations across the West and another that the BLM claims will “alleviate unnecessary impediments and burdens” and “expedite the offering of lands for lease” by cutting the public out of oil and gas planning on public lands.

This suit marks the first legal challenge to the Interior Department’s controversial January policy that slashed transparency, public participation and environmental reviews before oil and gas leases are auctioned. This policy, together with the massive leases in sage-grouse habitat, are part of Trump’s “energy dominance” agenda, intended to sweep aside environmental protections to speed fossil fuel development on public land.

Under land-use plans adopted in 2015, the Interior Department is obligated to restrict fracking and drilling leases to areas outside of key sage-grouse habitat in order to avoid listing the bird under the Endangered Species Act. Under Zinke, the BLM has ignored this policy, putting nearly 2 million acres of habitat on the auction block – more than 1.3 million in 2018 alone.